Wasted Outrage by David Montgomery

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One topic that has in recent months received far more attention than it deserves is 3D printing of plastic guns.  They are pretty much worthless, so that both the libertarian posturing of their makers and the frightened howls of the hoplophobes are plain silly.  

Throw into the mix the fact that a settlement was reached under the Trump administration allowing publication of computer code for programming a 3D printer to make an all-plastic gun, and the pot boils over.  Not only are reporters and editorialists having hysterics, but judges all over and the Attorney General of Maryland are wasting their time and our money fighting this settlement.

Here is the issue.  The Obama State Department warned a blogger that if he published instructions for using a 3D printer to make a plastic gun he would be in violation of one of its alphabet soup regulations – the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.  That was the first bit of silliness – using regulations intended to prevent publication of designs for advanced weapon systems to stop someone from posting computer code that could have been written by anyone with a course or two in 3D printing at a community college and a working knowledge of real firearms.  That raised legitimate fears that the State Department would classify such common activities as posting a copy of the manual for use and maintenance of a firearm to be a violation of ITAR.

The blogger – who has been described as a libertarian activist – sued the State Department for violating his First Amendment rights. In June the State Department agreed to a settlement that would have allowed him to publish the computer code on August 1.  While all this was happening, a plan developed in the Obama Administration to move export controls on commercially available small arms from State to Commerce was being implemented. And Commerce has made it clear that once something has been been published on the internet, it is no longer subject to export controls.  All in all, a sensible approach which would remove any restrictions on publishing instructions on 3D printing of plastic guns.

On the First and Second Amendment side, this plan makes the issue of prior restraint on dissemination of information about 3D printing of firearms moot.  In fact, even before the August 1 deadline, instructions similar to those that the State Department had tried to stop reportedly appeared on other websites. There was nothing left for either side to fight about.  The Bill of Rights was protected, and the cat was out of the bag in any event.

But that is not how the media and the anti-gun lobby see it.  Since the settlement with the State Department happened in the Trump Administration, it became another cause célèbre for Trump-bashing.

The fear mongers moved immediately to hyperbole and accusations:

Senator Markey of Massachusetts: “Donald Trump will be totally responsible for every downloadable, plastic AR-15 (gun) that will be roaming the streets of our country if he does not act today,”

Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut: “blood is going to be on his [Trump’s] hands.”

As usual, a Federal judge from the West Coast listened to all this and decided that President was again doing “irreparable harm” and issued an injunction to stop the publication of the 3D instructions.

Ironically, the “downloadable gun” that is causing all the fuss is at best a curiosity, a waste of money to make, and far more dangerous to the shooter than anyone it might be pointed at.  The plastics used by home-style 3D printers are far from strong enough to contain the energy of even a wimpy cartridge. A 3D printed all-plastic gun is no more dangerous than a large firework, which is what experts expect most of them to become sooner or later.  A successful product might last for a shot or two, but most are likely to explode in the hands of the idiot who decided to build one.

If the result works and really is “undetectable,” the maker is already in trouble.  The Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 made it illegal to “manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer or receive” any firearm that cannot be detected in a TSA scan.  As a result, the design at issue included a firing pin and enough other metal to trigger a metal detector.

Even a tinkerer who wants to make his own off-the-books firearm has a less expensive way to make a superior product.  It is perfectly legal to purchase an unfinished frame for a pistol or even an AR-type rifle because the ATF does not consider it to be a “firearm” until some additional holes and hollows are drilled so that the parts that make it shoot can be installed.  The “80% complete receivers” as they are called are widely available online for under $100, as are the jigs and instructions needed to place the holes and hollows accurately. For the rest a few drills and end mills, a drill press or even a hand drill do the job.

Besides, why would any bad guy go to the trouble and expense to roll his own when far superior stolen guns are bought and sold on the streets of Washington and Baltimore every day?

So the NRA and President Trump (and I) agree with the ban on undetectable guns.  Nobody in his right mind who intends to use a firearm for any of its legal or illegal purposes wants or needs an all-plastic gun.  Even a nut bent on mass murder would discover that a single-shot self-destroying firearm is not very useful.

On top of that, keeping plans for 3D guns off the Internet is literally closing the barn door too late.  The offending bit of computer code is far from the secret of the atomic bomb. Not only are there cheaper ways to obtain a more effective weapon, the code itself is hardly a mystery or scientific breakthrough.  The necessary components of a firearm are few and well known and courses in programming 3D printers are widely available. The result may or may not work, but the opportunity is there for anyone who wishes to tinker innocently or to waste time and money.

I found this topic worth writing about for three reasons.  It is about guns, which is a good enough reason for me all by itself.  Even better, the out of sight reactions are good for a few laughs. But there is a serious point, about how easily people are now gulled into hysteria and outrage when the target is made out to be our President.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

Progress on the Raimond Building: Art Council’s John Schratwieser on Phase I

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As with most projects of this kind, without some very strategic financial support up front, historic restoration projects rarely move beyond the dreaming phase.  While it is always hard to fundraise, without the backing of one key person or institution in the first phase of a capital program, no campaign can succeed.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that John Schratwieser, the director of the Kent County Arts Council and primary leader in restoring the Vince and Leslie Raimond Arts Building on Spring Street, was so thrilled to talk about a Maryland Heritage Areas Authority “Stories of the Chesapeake” capital grant for $100,000 toward its renovation.

In our check in with John last week, he outlines how this grant is such a critical part of this three-phase effort to add gallery spaces, meeting rooms, artist studios, and residences to one of the oldest remaining structures in Chestertown’s downtown.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Kent County Arts Council please go here

 

The Language of Crabs by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I have what is usually referred to as a “good ear” for languages. My French is very good, unaccented (if I do say so myself), and my Arabic (thanks to the Peace Corps) isn’t too bad. I have a smattering of Italian, a little less Spanish, and I can fall into a reasonable imitation of an Irish or Scottish brogue almost at the drop of a hat. But try as I might, I can’t speak Crab.

My wife and her very large family are almost all from Maryland and they speak Crab fluently. I sit at a table that’s covered in brown paper and festooned with a heaping mound of steamed crustaceans, weapons of attacks (mallets, claw crackers, and crab knives) and all the other necessary implements of war (butter, Old Bay, vinegar, and of course cold beer), smiling politely as if I understand what is going around me. But the truth is I don’t have a clue; it’s all gibberish to me.

I do understand a few words: claw, leg, shell, but that’s about the extent of my crab talk. Occasionally, I hear a word a word I think I understand—knuckle, mustard, coral, plate, apron, corner—but they’re used in sentences that make no sense. For a while, I thought all crabs were named Jimmy or Jumbo, but then someone said “I got a Sook” but she sure looked like Jimmy or Jumbo to me. Someone else said he liked the tomalley, but I couldn’t see anything on the table that looked like a tomato or an olive. Another person claimed to be cleaning out the corners, but the table was beginning to look awfully messy to me. In fact, what was once just a table was now a war zone, littered with bits of shells, butter stains, and soggy heaps of Old Bay seasoning. As the discard pile grew, the room—thankfully an outdoor screened porch with ceiling fans—began to smell like last week’s trash. No one else seemed to mind or even notice.

I will say this: there was an awful lot of conversation over all those dead crabs. Well, no; maybe not actual conversation…more like chatter, but that’s par for the course among this group. The din was more like a happy background buzz interrupted by swigs of beer or sips of wine or the whack of a hammer on a claw. I just nodded and kept on smiling.

Eventually, I came to understand that we weren’t eating crabs; we were picking crabs. Some people immediately ate what they extracted from yet another abandoned shell; others built a small mountain of meat which I surmised would be consumed at some indefinite point in the future. It seemed to me like an awful lot of squeeze for very little juice, but once again I was a minority of one. And yet, somehow, all those little lumps of meat were gaining traction in stomachs, but then again maybe it was just the butter and beer. All I knew was that my hands and shirt were a mess; my lips were on fire. That was before the steamed corn arrived along with more butter and a tomato/mozzarella salad with balsamic vinegar and fresh basil from the garden, both languages I can thankfully speak. Things were looking up: even though I’m dieting, I began to wonder what was for dessert, another language I speak all too well.

Eventually, corn became cobs and what was once a bushel of tasty crabs became several hefty bags of garbage. We went from eating—I mean “picking”—to cleaning up in a flash. Someone removed the stained brown paper and crab residue from the table, someone else swept he floor, dishes were washed, and empty beer bottles went to the recycling container. All of a sudden, the storm was over. I would like to say that an eerie quiet descended on the room, but that would be fake news.

I still don’t speak or understand Crab. I guess it’s not in my DNA; I’ll always be a Maryland outlander, a “Sassenach” as my Scots ancestors would say in their old Erse. But maybe, just maybe, with a little more practice, I’ll learn a few more words in the language of crabs.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

 

Illusions by George Merrill

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The book of psalms is filled with wisdom. The psalms are rich in time-tested truths, including bold assertions, agonizing supplications and often lengthy diatribes. Unlike lyrical and poetic spiritual writings, some psalmists will get in your face – and also in God’s face. Some are furious and vengeful and a few make threats. Psalm 88 warns God that, if He should let this psalmist die of his afflictions and the psalmist winds up as a corpse, it’s not going to look good for God. Not only would His failing to act damage His standing among the people who worship Him as a savior and a rescuer, but the dead don’t honor God with the conviction the living can.

This psalmist does not report how far this may have gotten him, but among all the psalmists, I’ll bet God prefers straight talkers best. He can be sure they’re not being pretentious.

I’m fond of Psalm 51. It speaks to my spiritual struggles. It’s not confrontational, but is an impassioned plea. The psalmist speaks to us in earnest about the state of his soul. He is painfully aware of his faults and shortcomings and, apart from wanting forgiveness, he wants something else; to be right with God and with himself. But how does he see this happening?

He puts it this way:

“You (God) desire truth in the inward being; therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” He sees these conditions as the terms for a right relationship with God . . . and I would add, a right relationship with the world including everyone in it.

To have a clean heart, to have a right spirit within and wisdom in the secret places of the heart, I believe looks like this: not prone to be suckered by illusions, but living by what’s true. In spirituality, the worst enemies we have are the illusions we cling to. They are like sea water to the thirsty sailor; momentarily satisfying, but ending badly.

I’ve grown more conscious of illusions recently. Twitter and email are in our faces 24/7. Today’s political rhetoric and marketing endeavors, whether it’s our president telling us who the liars are, or the automobile industry claiming their trucks come equipped with guts and glory, we are awash in images and verbiage designed to sell us just about anything.

Never in history has information, whether true or false, been so easily and widely distributed to a world electronically wired to consume it. It’s become a way of life, filled with illusions repeated over and over again to manipulate. Differentiating truth from lies can be an hour by hour challenge.

Plato’s timeless allegory of the cave explores how skewed our perceptions can become, and depending on what we accept as real, how misleading they can be.

The allegory tells about prisoners confined to one room. They don’t think of it as a prison since that’s all they’ve known from birth. They are shackled in such a way they can see only one wall of the prison. On that wall, they see the light reflected from the world outside, but only its shadows. Outside, people are walking by, talking with each another, carrying boxes, holding children or shouldering tools for their work; the prisoners perceive only dark phantoms in motion; shadows are their only reality.

One prisoner escapes.

He sees the outside world for the first time; he watches actual people, the places and the things he knew only by the shadows they cast. He sees them for what they are and returns to the prison to tell all his cell mates the wonders of what he has seen in the light.

The prisoners are incredulous; they’re frightened about what he is saying. He insists they too can see what he has if only they throw off their shackles and get out into the light. They refuse. Because his disclosures are strange to them, they’re confused and fearful about what he tells them, and they remain determined to stay just where they are. As the freed prisoner tells his former cellmates what he’s seen, they threaten him with harm and tell him to go away. Time has inured them to the shadowy illusions of reality. It’s the only world they know.

Writing in Politico in 2017, Maria Kannakova investigates the effects on our brains of lies and misleading statements that are repeated again and again: “As it turns out” she writes, “sheer repetition of the same lie can eventually make it true in our heads . . . Eventually, without quite realizing it, our brains just give up trying to figure out what’s true.”

Giving up is not going to gain us the wisdom we hunger for in our secret hearts and put us right with God or ourselves. It’s in quietness and reflection that our inner vision becomes clearer and less troubled. There, in that inner space, light illuminates everything and casts no shadows.
There is a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that I believe has wisdom and meaning extend far beyond any sectarian boundaries. I have come to treasure it even more in these unsettled times. It is one way I try to stay focused on what the light is illuminating rather than the shadows it throws. It’s called a prayer for quiet confidence.

O GOD of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Spy Sunday Essay: Living History by Al Sikes

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Author’s note: A small community church is in the foreground, The Beaverkill Church. It is shadowed by Mount McGuckin in the Catskill Mountain chain. Recently I was recruited to deliver the Sunday morning message.

In speaking of the American Revolution in 1838 (fifty-five years after the last shot was fired), Abraham Lincoln recounted how every family was indelibly joined to the principles of the great struggle. He called it a “living history”.

The Beaverkill Church, Beaverkill, NY in the 1930s.

He went on to say that living history “must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time.” Lincoln added: “In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the Bible shall be read — but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been.”

Lincoln’s speech was delivered before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. He was 28. The context for this speech was mob actions in Mississippi and St. Louis, largely targeting freed slaves and his plea was to honor the political institutions that were created to assure and protect individual liberty.

In re-visiting what is known as the Lyceum speech, I was reminded of the return of Jesus after the resurrection and the fading memory of history lived and then only studied.

You will recall that He first appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples, absent Thomas.

Later Jesus joined the disciples with Thomas present. Thomas, you will recall, said “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”.

Now, before I continue to talk about the foundation of belief and faith, let me quote from a sermon by the great Scottish Minister, George MacDonald, who C. S. Lewis called his “Master”.

MacDonald said “Now, whenever you begin to speak of anything true, divine, heavenly or supernatural, you cannot speak of it at all without speaking about it wrongly in some measure. We have no words, we have no phrases, we have no possible combination of sentences that do more than represent fragmentarily the greatness of the things that belong to the very Vital being of our nature”.

I continue with McDonald’s warning, a recurring echo in my mind.

It seems to me that every several months there is a new poll inquiring whether some universe of people believe in God.

The Gallup organization has been conducting polls on religious belief since 1944. The high water mark of belief was in 1967, when 98% of those who responded said they believed in God. The 2017 poll put belief at 87%, a decline of over 13%. The universe of believers in 2017 included 64% who were convinced that God
exists, 16% said He probably did and 5% believed, but had significant doubts — lets call them the 50/50 crowd.

I would suggest that just as MacDonald was concerned about his own potential errors in talking about God, that pollsters should be doubly concerned about the ultimate accuracy of their surveys. Poll results tum on a variety of circumstances, many bearing little relationship to discovering truth. My guess is that there are many “doubting Thomas’s” among the self—professed believers.

I began chairing The Trinity Forum in 2008 and retired from that position in 2013. Our mission was to convene leaders with those steeped in philosophy and theology to consider and discuss life’s great questions.

The forum also published what I choose to call faith’s living history. The importance of this history, for me, was underscored by Albert Einstein’s observation on the importance of transcendent
values.

“Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application 0f th0se insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength of humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. ”

Einstein understood, indeed we all understand, that liberty — the absence of restraint — when paired with our sinful nature is often corrupted. Einstein placed what he called high moral standards” above objective truth.

Adam Smith, who many believe to be the father of capitalism, wrote explicitly about the need for what he called “moral sentiments”. If you look, for example, at the yawning gap between the compensation of upper management and those who produce products and services, it is easy to see the lack of “moral
sentiments”.

The need for and importance of the environmental movement results from the lack of “moral sentiments” by too many who control the wastes of production and consumption.

An examination of the political leadership of the so-called religious right is replete with examples of choosing power over the values of faith in Jesus Christ. But, I am sure that every political leader, regardless of his hunger for power, would tell the Gallup pollsters that they believe in God.

The Church has a rich living history of witness. While living in Manhattan, I stood behind the pulpit of Redeemer Presbyterian Church one evening and recounted my faith in God. I feel no more adequate today than I felt then. Yet, I have chosen again to reflect on faith.

Einstein’s deism seemed tied to what he called “a well-tuned universe”. The structure of the universe, as proven by scientific inquiry, informed his mind.

Most Christians find their faith through family experience, biblical text and spiritual signals. In my own life, Sundays were religiously and culturally important during my formative years. Today, for many, Sundays are spent in the bleachers watching children and grandchildren do something with a ball.

If “living history” is an important element in belief, curiosity is essential. Lincoln’s point of reference was the Revolutionary War and its aftermath. The principles for which soldiers fought and died were Vivid and influential, at least to a point.

In the world in which we live, 81 generations after Jesus walked the earth, a different kind of living history must inform faith. And, belief without animating faith is hollow.

I have gained insight and strength by understanding the importance of faith in the actions of Lincoln and William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. And, if you want to understand the importance of faith to Martin Luther King, read his letter from the Birmingham jail.

Or read the prayers of Mother Teresa contained in a book written by my Jewish friend, Tony Stem. Or, study the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who left Germany’s state church and became a key founder of the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer’s courageous rejection of Hitler resulted in his execution.

Or, look around us at the beauty of the Catskills. Or, examine the art of Michelangelo. Or, listen to the music of Bach.

It is hard for me to understand sacrifice and beauty as being separated from intention informed by a divine force. There is light in what is often a dark world.

It is also hard to survey the extraordinary dedication of organizations like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Young Men’s and Women’s Christian Associations and not believe that our soul helps inform our brain.

Returning to Abraham Lincoln’s reflection on living history, let me reflect on an updated and revolutionary convergence of faith and music — more recent living history.

John Newton was born in 1725 and during the earlier part of his adult life was a profane slave trader. One night, while at the helm of his ship, he faced a terrifying storm. He later recounted that he prayed for the storm to quiet and it did.

He was certain divinity had touched him and he later expressed his conversion to Christianity in the hymn, Amazing Grace. Listen to the words:

AMAZING GRACE

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Lord hath promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand
years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

What most do not know is that the final verse was added by Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was published in 1852 — living history four generations later. Let me repeat it:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

Amazing Grace has been recorded over 7,000 times and was a seminal song in the civil rights movement. Mahalia Jackson’s 1947 version four generations later is a legendary recording.

Amazing Grace later became an anthem in the resistance to the Vietnam War five generations later. Noteworthy recordings of that era include Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. Living
history indeed. And, of course, Newton’s seminal contribution to living history remains one of faith’s most important anthems.

Now one can say, if God saved John Newton’s life, why doesn’t he intercede to help the innocent? Why does he let bad things happen to good people? Fair questions.

My answer: I don’t know! But at the risk of “speaking about it wrongly in some measure”, I will offer two thoughts. First, we have been given free choice and it is often abused. If every time a wrong action was planned God interceded, freedom would not exist.

Second, we have been given hope that our soul, the essence of our spirituality, will be given a second life. I choose to believe that the innocent will have a heavenly existence.

Now let me close with two thoughts. Regardless of what we believe, we are certain in some measure to be wrong. God is in the details and in our human weaknesses we often get the details wrong.

Maybe it is my more optimistic nature that leads me to believe in a caring God and his son, Jesus Christ. I wonder who I have to thank for that! I believe I know.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. He and his wife, Marty, are members of the Beaverkill Church in Beaverkill, NY during the summer months where this sermon was originally given a few weeks ago. 

Mid-Shore Profiles: Lyon Distillery Company’s Jaime Windon

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From the moment the Lyon Distillery Company opened its doors in St. Michaels five years, the Spy has had an great interest in its unique progression. Founded by Jaime Windon and Ben Lyon at the very end of 2013 on a small side street of the historic town, Lyon has become not only a successful and award-winning rum business but an extraordinary role model for young entrepreneurs throughout the Eastern Shore.

With a passion for rum and a special love for a small town lifestyle, Jaime and Ben had a conviction the Md-Shore community would be willing to support this kind of enterprise. Five years later, Lyon is not only highly sought after locally but is now building a national following as well.

But what makes Jaime so unique is that this busy CEO also has invested significantly in her community. In her Spy interview, she talks about the importance of St. Michaels in making Lyon successful, but also from the perspective of an elected commissioner for the Town of St. Michaels. Jaime also talks about what it takes to build a successful business as well as a town.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Lyon Distillery please go here

Hospital Plan Includes Patient Beds, No ICU, Kozel Tells Meeting

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Ken Kozel, CEO of Shore Regional Health; Dr. Ona Maria Kareiva; Dr. Michael Peimer; and Margie Elsberg of Save Our Hospital — Photo by Peter Heck

The upstairs meeting room of Chestertown’s Town Hall was filled last Thursday night for a meeting called by the Save the Hospital coalition. Margie Elsberg of Save Our Hospital chaired the meeting, which featured a panel of Ken Kozel, CEO of University of Maryland Shore Regional Health for five counties on the Eastern Shore; Dr. Ona Maria Kareiva, an anesthesiologist from Easton who works at the Chestertown hospital, and Dr. Michael Peimer, an internal medicine specialist, of Chestertown.

Elsberg opened the discussion with a summary of the status of Shore Regional Health’s plans for the hospital. She said that Shore Regional Health, a subsidiary of University of Maryland Medical Services, originally planned to downgrade the Chestertown Hospital to a stand-alone medical facility – essentially an expanded emergency ward, with some testing facilities but no inpatient beds. Residents’ protests, notably in a packed 2014 meeting at the Chestertown firehouse, forced UM SRH to reconsider. The community response also resulted in a measure passed by the General Assembly of Maryland, requiring the hospital to stay open until 2020 – a date that SRH extended to 2022. However, if no new legislation is passed before that date, UM SRH is within its rights to carry on with its original plan, or even to close the hospital entirely.

Shore Regional Health (SRH) owns three hospitals on the Eastern Shore — one each in Chestertown, Easton, and Cambridge.  Statewide, University of Maryland Medical Systems (UM MMS) owns 13 hospitals–that’s ten in addition to the three on the Eastern Shore.  Also, UM SRH runs numerous other medical facilities offering a multitude of medical facilities and services including doctors’ offices, testing facilities, and various medical clinics.  The Shore Medical Pavilion at 126 Philosophers’ Terrace in Chestertown–which opened a little over two years in June 2016–is owned and operated by UM SRH.

Elsberg said that UM SRH has agreed to retain some patient beds in Chestertown. However, the current plans do not include an intensive care unit, a decision that Save Our Hospital strongly opposes. She said the community will need to generate legislative support to get the action needed to prevent the hospital from closing or eliminating services. She emphasized that the facility under consideration would be a “minimal” hospital.

Dr. Kareiva said the hospital needs an ICU to care for patients with such diseases as pneumonia, who need a high degree of observation and maintenance. She said an operating room is also necessary for the community. She said Kozel has promised to provide most of what the community has asked for. “We need you to believe him and work together,” she said. She added that the community needs to use the hospital to keep it viable.

Kozel said that the nature of health care has changed significantly in the past five to ten years because of the Medicare waiver granted to the state of Maryland, meaning that health care payments are at a predetermined rate statewide. Because of this, he said, the cost of health care “is going through the roof” at 18 to 19 percent of the economy. UM SRH is under the obligation to provide access to high-quality care at an affordable rate. But it covers a rural area with a comparatively small population spread over five counties, two of which – Queen Anne’s and Caroline – don’t have hospitals.

Kozel said a free-standing medical facility – the model UM SRH originally planned for Chestertown – does 95 percent of what a full hospital does, “all except beds.” He said the plan made sense, but the firehouse meeting forced UM SRH to reconsider. The geography of the five-county area means that patients from Kent County are an hour or more away from the Easton hospital, which he said he now believes is an unacceptable distance to ask them and their families to travel. The current model is a “critical access hospital,” which would have 15 patient beds but no ICU. He said the Shore board supports the plan, although it recognizes that it’s a challenge.

Dr. Peimer said the hospital needs a critical mass of usage to stay open. It needs to keep staff at a certain level, and remain flexible. It’s important for it to be able to take care of patients locally, not send them away. That means bringing in staff to cover specialties not found in the local community. It also means finding enough hours for the nursing staff – Peimer said the hospital is losing nurses because it can’t provide enough hours for them.

Some of the audience at the Save Our Hospital meeting Aug. 2 — Photo by Jane Jewell

Garrett Falcone of Heron Point said the hospital needs to work to bring in more primary care doctors.

Kozel said the system is working to recruit more doctors for the local community. He said UM SRH worked with Dr. Susan Ross to keep her practice open and hired a new doctor to join her practice. Specialists are also being brought in at the offices on Philosophers Terrace, including a cardiologist, an ear, nose, and throat specialist and others. But because the system needs to cover five counties, it has a limited budget for what it can do in Chestertown. “We need to cut to balance what we add,” Kozel said.

An audience member asked why the hospital needs to cut if it is operating in the black, as stated by Dr. Jerry O’Connor in an interview on public radio last week.

Kozel said the hospital previously operated on a fee-for-service basis, meaning that more volume produced more revenue, allowing the hospital to be profitable. Because of the waiver, rates are now capped. “We know our revenue for the year, and we have to use it wisely,” he said. But if the hospital provides fewer services, or if its service is rated poorly, it loses revenue.

UM SRH has been consolidating such departments as human resources and IT systems while working to keep nurse/patient ratios constant, Kozel said. It’s also working to reduce “avoidable utilization” – patients who don’t need to be in a hospital at all, especially those who are readmitted after treatment.

The whole system is on a break-even budget, he said. The patient census – those kept in beds — averages about 17 a day, but can be as low as five and as high as 25, depending on seasonal variations and other factors.

An audience member said the hospital refers many patients to Easton. Kozel said that decision is up to the doctors – what’s right for the patient. The audience member said that Easton doctors who take phone calls from Chestertown don’t know what facilities are available here. Elsberg said the perception is that Easton doctors don’t listen or care about Kent County patients.

Kozel said that 95 percent of transfers from Chestertown to Easton are decided upon by emergency room doctors who have examined the patient.

Elsberg said that closing the hospital in Cambridge will produce significant savings for Shore. Beds will be moving from that facility to Easton, she said – why not to Chestertown? Or is the system just cutting patients to justify closing the local facility?

Kozel said the UM SRH board has not approved closing the Chestertown hospital and does not intend to. He said it’s working with the General Assembly to create a plan to keep it open.

Elsberg said the system asks nurses to commute to Easton to get their full quota of hours; why not ask doctors to commute to Chestertown?

Kozel said he has no control over what doctors do. He said they could see several patients in the time they would lose driving here. A few are doing so voluntarily.

Allan Schauber of Kent & Queen Anne’s Rescue Squad explains how the need to take patients to Easton impacts the county’s emergency responders — Photo by Jane Jewell

Allan Schauber of the Kent & Queen Anne’s Rescue Squad said that Emergency Medical teams are impacted by the need to transport patients to Easton. He said there had been emergency calls in Still Pond and Fairlee that very day, one of which was a woman in childbirth who had to be taken out of the county because there is no maternity ward here. All three of the available EMS teams were tied up and unavailable for any serious emergency that might have happened.

Kozel said the lack of a maternity ward was the result of the low birth rate in the local area, with less than 200 births a year. It’s impossible to keep the necessary staff in town and to keep up the level of expertise, he said. “We can’t provide all services to all communities.” He said that emergency rooms have delivered babies, but in general, the medical staff has to follow guidelines.

After several more audience members challenged Kozel on the need to transfer patients to Easton, he said he would ask his medical executive committee to look into the reasons for transfers.

Dr. Peimer said the Chestertown doctors take their jobs seriously. He said the doctors would like to see statistics on transfers out of the hospital. “We want to keep people here if we can,” he said, but the local doctors are working against “a different culture” in Easton. He said doctors have to maintain a comfort zone as far as the care their patients are getting, and the Easton doctors may not be aware of what can be done in Chestertown.

Falcone asked whether appointing Kathy Elliott, the hospital’s director of nursing at Chestertown, as executive director of the hospital, was a wise choice. He said that splitting time between the two jobs would make it difficult to succeed. He said community outreach would suffer.

Kozel said Elliott knows the system and knows what the hospital does. Nurses do 90 percent of what the hospital does, nurses have knowledge that most administrators lack. “Kathy’s got the best of both worlds,” he said. As far as community outreach, “We’re trying to get her acclimated,” he said.

Kent County Commissioner William Pickrum said the state’s budget is controlled by the governor; “We need to focus on him.” He said Gov. Larry Hogan’s constituency is heavily weighted toward rural Maryland, and Kent County should be able to “get him to pay attention to us.”

Fred Kirchner of Tolchester said that economic development is an important issue in Kent County, but “it doesn’t work without a hospital.”

Elsberg said that both sides are in agreement that Kent County should have a hospital. “The infighting is about the details,” she said. “’No beds’ is not on the table.”

Asked if Washington College is on board with preserving a full hospital, Elsberg said college President Kurt Landgraf is fully committed and fighting very hard. Landgraf knows hospitals and politics, she said, as he has previously served on a hospital board in another community for several years.

Sarah Feyerherm, the college’s Dean of Students, said the college counts on having the hospital nearby. She said it is a crucial factor in attracting both students and new employees.

Asked whether the lack of an ICU affects patients’ willingness to have surgeries performed locally, Peimer said it would make some people think twice.

An audience member asked if the lack of an obstetrics facility could be made up by using midwives. Kozel said the hospital needs full-time coverage for obstetrics. He said there are no birthing centers in Maryland, and said there might be regulatory issues behind that fact.

Carl Gallegos, a member of the hospital foundation, said the hospital realized some $7 million from the sale of Chester River Manor, the nursing home. He said the funds are being kept in the community; one of the first expenditures from the sale was a new CT scanning machine. He said the foundation needs the community’s continued support.

Elsberg, summing up the two-hour meeting, said she was encouraged by “the enormous passion the community exhibits.” She said the efforts to retain a hospital, including an ICU, are close to being on the right path. Government support will be needed to complete the community’s vision through legislation. While the local delegates to the General Assembly have done much to support the community, “we need to fire up the engines again,” she said.

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Out and About (Sort of): Lying – Vice and Virtue by Howard Freedlander

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In 558 days as president, as of August 1, 2018, Donald Trump has lied 4,229 times, according to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” database. The lies amount to an average of 7.6 a day.

Now, if I were being charitable, an attitude difficult to sustain during the tumultuous Trump presidency, I would use the phrase “false and misleading claims,” as the Post did. I prefer the simpler and more accurate word—lying.

Why do I feel so emboldened to call President Trump a chronic liar? Because I think he would agree. He believes in and practices on a daily basis the art of creating an alternative reality.

And he’s good at it. If you continue to repeat a falsehood over and over, as he does so very adroitly, some—as in his loyal base—will consider his bombast as the truth. That’s downright scary.

The media is the “enemy of the people.” There were two sides to the racist riots in Charlottesville, VA about a year ago in which an innocent person was killed. President Obama secretly taped conversations during Trump’s post-election transition. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a decent fellow and well worth pursuing as a chum.

His statements not only are false, they are dangerous. He doesn’t care. He’s an expert in firing up his base.

He measures his success by the intensity of his followers.

Eighty-eight times he said he engineered the biggest tax cut in U.S. history. Untrue.

His beloved, still unbuilt wall with Mexico is under construction despite lack of congressional funding. He has uttered this assertion 30 times. Untrue.

He has said more than 60 times that the United States pays as much as 90 percent of NATO costs, and that other countries have failed to live up to their obligations. He dishonestly couples our nation’s overall defense spending with our specific NATO support.

To deal with the daily onslaught of lies and instances of boorish behavior, I sought the refuge of humor to provide a perspective on lying. I certainly wouldn’t want to seem self-righteous about my disdain for falsehood as a vital ingredient in President Trump’s governing style.

So, I turned to the great humorist and philosopher, Mark Twain, and his essay entitled, “On The Decay Of The Art of Lying.” I learned, not surprisingly, that Donald Trump, our liar-in-chief, is not a very good or refined liar, according to Twain’s satirical standards.

Twain wrote, “No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances—the deduction that it is then a Virtue goes without saying. No virtue can reach its highest usefulness without careful and diligent cultivation—therefore it goes without saying that this one ought to be taught in the public schools—even the newspapers.”

After noting his inability as an “ignorant uncultivated liar against the cultivated expert,” such as a lawyer, Twain opined, “I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie injudiciously. An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.”

As he dwelled on the glorious art of lying, Mark Twain, ever so skillful in his use of words and humor to scour the human condition, said, “I think that all this courteous lying (as in falsely and politely saying that you are glad to see someone), is a sweet and loving art, and should be cultivated. The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.”

As I move my attention, leavened by humor, back to our lying-infested, morally bankrupt president, I must quote once more from Twain, “The man who speaks an injurious truth lest his soul be not saved if he do otherwise, should reflect that that sort of a soul is not worth saving. The man who tells a lie to help a poor devil out of trouble is one of whom the angels doubtless say, ‘Lo, here is an heroic soul who casts his own welfare in jeopardy to succor his neighbor’s; let us exalt this magnanimous liar.’

Mr. Trump is not a very good liar, despite his years of experience. His lies are based upon a poor, uninformed command of information. He lies simply for his benefit, not for the sake of others.

We Americans must accept that our president is a congenital liar, or should I say a purveyor of “false or misleading claims?”

After 18 months imprisoned in the purgatory of a Trump presidency, we should be inured to the daily storm of incredulous comments. Perhaps we should pity a person who cannot meet Mark Twain’s standards of useful, selfless lying.

Maybe we should laugh a little more. Maybe we should realize that truth is not part of the Trump brand.

Mark Twain should have the last word in my commentary about lying:

“Joking aside, I think there is much need of wise examination into what sorts of lies are best and wholesomest to be indulged, seeming we must all lie, and what sorts it may best avoid—and this is a thing which I feel I can confidently put into the hands of this experienced Club—a ripe body, who may be termed, in this regard, and without undue flattery, Old Masters.”

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Old Habits in New Spaces by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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My wife and I are back at the beach (Rehoboth Beach, to be specific) on our annual pilgrimage to the Delaware shore. While I’m a relative newcomer to this littoral tradition, she has been coming here all her life. Memories of past summers sustain her through the long winter; planning consumes her every spring. I go along for the ride and to watch the never-ending sitcom that repeats every summer. But this year, there’s a big difference: instead of our usual rental, we’re in a different house. It’s an adjustment for her, but I fell in love with the new place at hello!

She knew where everything was in the old house: the glassware, the spatulas, the corkscrew, the bowls and the napkins and the ice bucket and the bug spray; the towels and the linens; the charcoal and the chimney for the grill. In the new house, everything is guesswork, but we’re beginning to make progress. We discovered the silverware drawer and we’ve found out how to turn down the fan over the dining room table so the paper napkins stay put and how to light up the screened porch for evening chats. After a few tries, we figured out how to adjust the water temperature in the outdoor shower. The dishwasher and the washing machine are becoming friendlier; the televisions (each with multiple remotes) are beginning to cooperate. All in all, the space for our crew (kids, grandkids, and assorted friends; we’re 8 today but it’s a moving target) is generous, light, and airy. I think the new place is a terrific upgrade; her jury is still deliberating.

Despite the changes to habitat, the traditions of the summer ritual have remained largely the same. We schlep chairs, towels, and coolers, shovels and buckets, even a plastic wading pool to the beach in the morning and schlep it all home again in the late afternoon. In between, we bake under the sun, plan meals, take a dip or two, chat, nap, read, walk—everything everybody else does at the beach. In the morning, our chairs are lined up to face the sun, but by afternoon, they’re circled to facilitate the lazy conversations that mark our fortnight at the beach. Much is discussed but little is decided. Decisions are hard to come by in this group.

There is also another change this year: there’s a new beach home for another branch of the family. This space is large enough to accommodate another whole host of kids, grandkids, aunts and uncles, as well as various out-laws and friends. (I think I counted 17 resident heads over there today, but I could be wrong; after all, a lot of those heads were in motion. One thing is for sure: the number of heads will surely wax as the week goes on; waning is another matter.) You might think that two houses could make for twice the problems, but that doesn’t seem to be the case—yet. OK, we have to play bumper cars in the narrow driveway several times a day and must remember whose bike is left at which house but these are minor details in the overall campaign.

As for the other traditions of the season, some depend on the weather, others rely on various appetites: what night do we want to barbecue the ribs? When shall we pick crabs? Rinse off your feet! Whose turn is it to make an ice run? Who’s crying? Has anybody seen my phone? Where’s the backgammon board? Can you go pick up 6 baguettes? If it rains tomorrow, maybe we should take the kids to Funland. If the adults decide to go out for dinner tonight, who’s going to babysit? Baby? “HAS ANYBODY SEEN THE BABY?!?”

As Captain Yossarian might once have said, “And so it goes.” We’re adapting to our new spaces and retaining our old habits—I guess it can be done! Who knows: maybe we’ll even be bold enough to incorporate something new into the routine this year. Then again, maybe not. But I have learned this much: by the time vacation is over, I’ll need a vacation.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.